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DAV takes lead in United Front.

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As the official voice of America's disabled veterans, the DAV has long been recognized for taking a lead role on vital public policy issues. Whether working alone or in consort with other organizations, the goal is always the same--to make sure that our government lives up to its obligations to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.

So, when rumors began to surface that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) thought it might be a good idea to bill private insurance companies for treatment the VA provides to veterans for service-related disabilities and injuries, the DAV was the first to react. And, as it turned out, President Obama eventually decided to scrap the plan after the DAV and other organizations met with him and had a follow-up meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other top officials.

"How this drama played out can give our members a glimpse into what it's sometimes like working with a new administration," said Washington Headquarters Executive Director David W. Gorman.

The issue came to light during DAV's Mid-Winter Conference at National Commander Raymond E. Dempsey's Feb. 24 legislative presentation. At the conclusion of his remarks, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) asked if the DAV had "heard anything about new proposals" in the President's budget. Gorman responded that he'd heard a rumor of a proposal to allow the VA to bill private health insurance providers for veterans' service-connected care.

"We don't know if it is, in fact, a proposal," Gorman said. "If it is, I can tell you that DAV will not only not be silent but will be outraged and will confront the issue head on."

The VA would be abdicating its responsibility to veterans, and the initiative would drive up premiums and could have discouraged civilian employers from hiring disabled veterans because doing so would increase their insurance costs, Gorman later told Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

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DAV then moved quickly in mounting a unified front with other organizations.

In a Feb. 27 letter National Commander Dempsey and the leaders of 10 other veterans and military groups asked to meet with President Obama, Secretary Shinseki and OMB Director Peter Orzag to discuss the issue.

But there was no immediate response to the letter.

During the following week, National Commander Dempsey began a series of meetings with key lawmakers seeking their support for the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act (see page 7). He also urged them to reject any proposal that would shift the cost of treating veterans for service-connected conditions from the government's side of the ledger to insurance companies.

In the days that followed, the insurance-billing plan drew stiff bipartisan opposition from Congress, as well as near unanimous condemnation from the news media and political pundits of every stripe. Lawmakers who publicly opposed billing insurance companies for treating service-connected conditions include Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and the committee's Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Steve Buyer (R-Ind.). During a Senate hearing on the VA budget, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) declared the insurance proposal "dead on arrival." During a House hearing, Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) called the plan "unconscionable" and vowed to "oppose the entire budget" if the administration brought the proposal forward.

Then the White House called DAV Washington Headquarters with an invitation from the President.

"To his credit, President Obama took the unprecedented step of meeting with the DAV and others at the White House on March 16," said Gorman. "This was the only time I can remember that any president has sat down with us to talk about a policy-related issue. We talked with the president for about 40 minutes, and that showed us a lot."

"Our message to the president was simple and direct: that our government must not abandon its moral responsibility to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms," Gorman said.

"The DAV and the other groups were again united in opposing the plan in a follow-up meeting two days later with Chief of Staff Emanuel, who told us he thought the issue was off the table but that he needed to talk with the president," Gorman said.

That morning 68 Democratic and Republican House members sent President Obama a letter, initiated by freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), urging the administration to drop the proposal. The Republican House leadership also sent a similar letter. And Rep. John Adler (D-N.J.) introduced the Fulfilling America's Promise to Our Veterans Act (H.R. 1591) that would prohibit the government from collecting any charges from a third party for hospital care or medical services provided by the VA to a veteran for a service-connected disability.

After their meeting with the chief of staff, the DAV and other groups met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic colleagues. Speaker Pelosi was the first to announce that the White House decided to scrap the proposal "based on the respect that President Obama has for our nation's veterans and the principled concerns expressed by veterans' leaders."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs followed with an official statement that the proposal would be dropped. The statement said the president wants to continue a "constructive partnership" with veterans and military organizations.

"We are pleased that the president has heard our concerns and has taken them to heart," said Gorman. "Now that this ill-advised proposal is off the table, the DAV looks forward to working with the administration and Congress on crafting a good budget that will include sufficient appropriated dollars for the VA and fulfilling the president's pledge to include advance appropriations for veterans health care in his budget submission."
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Title Annotation:Disabled American Veterans
Author:Autry, Dave
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:966
Previous Article:National Commander Dempsey asks: Does Congress have the will to care for vets?
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